Across all types of corporations there is an ever increasing demand for employee training and development. Following Covid and large parts of the workforce suddenly working remotely, companies invested in digital tools for learning and development. Adopting new ways of learning and development, inefficiencies of traditional training became even more apparent. This paved the way for a large shift towards adopting gamification in corporate training across a range of industries.
Gamification has been a buzzword in learning and development for many years, but now it seems it is experiencing mass adoption. This isn’t just because gamification injects a bit of fun and interactivity into training. Above all, experience shows that gamification actually leads to better results in corporate training than traditional methods of training do.
In fact, a 2019 survey by talentlms.com confirmed that more than 80% of employees who receive gamified corporate training feel motivated. On the flip side, more than 60% of employees who take part in traditional corporate training feel unproductive and bored.
Before jumping in though you might have some questions. Like what does gamification mean, and how do you go about gamifying training? And in a market where every vendor say they are providing gamified training, what do you look for?
If these are familiar questions this beginner’s guide to gamification in corporate training is for you. It is a simplified guide to help you understand the basics of gamified corporate training.
2. What is Gamification
The ancient Egyptians played board games more than 5000 years ago. Today we play all kinds of games primarily to amuse ourselves. Even though games have different goals the core motive is to keep us entertained.
Over time people discovered that by borrowing mechanics from games you can influence people’s motivation and even alter their behavior. This is the philosophy driving gamification in corporate learning and development.
To increase the effect of corporate training, game mechanics are incorporated into learning activities triggering employee motivation, engagement and a sense of fulfillment.
Conversely, gamification is aimed at influencing employees attitude towards the training and the behavior they adopt when they are training.
Learner Behaviors & Attitudes
Learner behaviors are the actions that employees take with regards to their interaction with the training. Some examples are initially engaging with a course, progressing with the training, course completion and sharing experiences with a colleague.
Learner attitudes on the other hand are the feelings or emotions evoked by the training experience. These can be positive or negative and impact the trainee’s attitude towards the goal. Learner attitudes include a sense of meaning and relevance, accomplishment, empowerment and ownership.
In his gamification framework Octalysis, the gamification pioneer Yu-Kai Chou calls these feelings and emotions “Core Drives within us.” These drives serve to propel our motivation towards gamification activities. We’ll come back to the core drives later in the article.
Levels of Gamification
There are different levels of gamification used when it comes to corporate training that we will also look closer at. One main difference is between what is commonly called gamified training and the more interactive form of game-based training.
The former can broadly be said to be using game mechanics together with traditional learning content. The latter is when the learning content itself is changed and presented in a game-like structure.
Understanding what game mechanics are will likely help when discussing the use of them and how they might motivate trainers. Game mechanics are the elements borrowed from games and incorporated into the online training design. They mark the achievement of learning goals while providing the strategies needed to complete training.
Gamification designs can have a wide variety of game mechanics. Some of the most used game mechanics in corporate training gamification are listed here.
- Goals: Gamification users achieve an overall learning outcome at the end of the game. All other game mechanics are tied to the goal.
- Badges: Symbolic marks of achievement awarded to players for good performance and completion of a task or level.
- Certifications: Documentation that attest to the player’s hard work and achievement.
- Rewards: Compensations for exemplary performance or game mastery and achievement. Rewards can be badges or tangible prizes such as shopping or gym coupons.
- Points: A numerical measure of achievement allocated to every level of the learning game.
- Leaderboards: A scoreboard where learners are ranked according to their performance. Ranking creates competition and higher engagement.
- Challenges: Revision tools used to keep gamification users focused on tasks or reflect on what they have learned.
- Levels: Learners are required to progress in a specific training path. Markers of progress and scores for passing the level are incorporated.
- Interactive Progress Bars: Trackers that give users more control over their learning progress by seeing how they progress overall.
- Streaks: Users are challenged to complete a task or a progress level within a given time. This can both be seconds inside of a game module as well as days or weeks for a given course.
- Social Networks (Community): Interaction platforms within the game that promote sharing and competition among players, creating a sense of energy and motivation.
3. Why Gamification Works
If you asked a child why they are captivated by a video game, the most obvious answer would be that they are having fun.
But what determines if someone has fun playing a game? It is the ability of a game to tap into core human motivators: the desire to win, accumulate points or achievement badges, climb levels, surpass a fellow player, and so on.
Similarly, games in corporate training tap into core employee motivators to make learning fun and keep employees learning.
In other words, the thrill and validation from gamified training activates the brain and trigger the feel-good hormones.
These positive emotions have a direct impact on behavior change. In gamification, behavior change could simply mean completing a course rather than abandoning it halfway through. Also, typically being much more active when involved with gamified training employees are found to retain knowledge better.
4. The Problem with Traditional Training
The human brain has regions that react more readily to exciting and rewarding experiences. This is what gamification is mimicking when training is presented as an interactive experience more than a passive learning session. This is not the case in traditional training where learning activities leave participants mostly passive.
In the learning and training context, experts have proven that gamified learning activates the brain much more than traditional training. For example, Traci Sitzmann found that, compared to traditional learning, games can improve the learning of work-related skills and knowledge in the following ways:
- Increase self-efficacy
- Enhance procedural knowledge
- Increase declarative knowledge
- Increase learning retention
- Overall, games significantly increase task completion in learning.
These facts point to the problems typically found with traditional training. Here are three of the core challenges discussed in more detail.
Poor Trainee Engagement
There’s a direct link between engagement, achievement, and task completion. All three work towards the attainment of the training goal.
In traditional training, engagement is largely elusive because learning resources are not interactive. Trainers will mainly work with image-based documents, video presentations, or just mere texts.
In all these, the learner is a spectator and a part of a group of passive or semi-passive listeners.
In contrast, gamification of learning creates a highly interactive learning environment. This environment is characterized by the fun and competitiveness of a game and the challenge of attaining goals.
Lack of Personalized Learning
One of the most significant limits of traditional training is the “one size fits all approach.” The trainer uses the same content, materials, and methods for everyone.
Also, in traditional training, it doesn’t matter if there are generational, interest, or educational level differences. Traditional learning assumes everyone can learn the same content at the same pace and with the same style.
With gamification, instead, trainees can choose their own gaming and learning experience by:
- Selecting their preferred device (computer, phone, etc.).
- Taking learning at their own pace.
- Doing the training when and where they are the most motivated
- Receiving immediate and personalized feedback.
Higher Costs in Time and Resources
Typically with traditional training, the overall costs include a lot that is usually avoided with modern digital gamified training
- Pulling people out of their normal job to attend training
- Possible transportation to and from training venue
- Time spent actually participating is usually longer with traditional training
- Cost of trainers sometimes traveling around to facilitate training sessions
In gamified options instead, training can be done within a daily working schedule as part of the day’s tasks. In addition, the thrill of games pushes trainees to complete their training faster. It is also normal that people engage with mobile based training at all times of the day and week, not just during their work.
5. The Psychology of How People Learn
There are many theories explaining how people learn. One of the most common ones is called behaviorism. Behaviorism suggests that people learn by reacting to a stimulus, and their reaction is rewarded. The image of a lab rat in a maze looking for a piece of cheese springs to mind.
Critics have questioned behaviorism’s mechanical approach to human learning however. So, the sociocultural approach to learning comes in and suggests that learning is a necessity imposed by society. We learn what we do to function and fit in.
In a work setting that translates into a proper education for a given job and then continued work related training. This could be said to be the psychology behind learning at its most basic level. Other factors that come into play are people’s personal desires to learn.
Both outside forces and personal motivation, called extrinsic and intrinsic motivation, influence someone’s willingness to learn. Traditional corporate training can be said to have been built around learning as something you had to do. That does not always hold true, but far too often learners are passive participants and not really engaged.
Gamification however approaches learning with the aim to engage with people’s own desire to learn. To make them be active and willing participants in their own learning journeys. This plays into what is also known as self-determination theory, that people are motivated when feeling in control.
Arguably one can say that gamification aims at putting the people at the center of their own learning and development. It explains why the gamification guru Yu-Kai Chou considers human-focused design a better term for gamification. That approach to learning design is described in what he has called the Octalysis framework which we will look closer at.
Extrinsic vs. Intrinsic Motivation
Why do people do what they do? Why would employees commit to training? Psychologists will say motivation.
Motivation is the driving reason that makes us care and commit to what we do. It is the core determinant of our behavior pattern.
Our motive for the behavior can come from outside or inside of us. In this context the first is extrinsic motivation, and the other is intrinsic motivation.
When our reason for doing something is inspired by the need to earn an external reward (or avoid punishment). In this case, we do not perform because we enjoy it but because we are interested in an external benefit.
Example: Employees take part in training because it is mandatory, or maybe it can lead to a promotion with higher pay.
Triggered when we do something for its own sake or to achieve a personal reward. Your behavior in doing an intrinsically motivated activity is not informed by an outward reward. The behavior itself is or leads to the reward, spurring a feeling of satisfaction.
Example: An employee completes a training task because doing so gives a feeling of achievement and makes them feel more competent.
In learning, both extrinsic and intrinsic motivation have a significant role. In gamification, for example, badges, points, and certifications serve to make the trainee feel competent. Similarly, wanting to improve one’s skills will make the employee feel even more competent. On a deeper level increased competence can for example give an increased sense of security.
External and internal motivation can be integrated to achieve better results. This happens when external motivation is aligned with someone’s own personal motivation. Research suggests that indiscriminate use of external motivation, like a cash bonus can actually diminish internal motivation.
Instead, used as recognition for exemplary achievement, external rewards will boost the intrinsic feeling of competence. In turn, the enjoyment of and engagement in the task will be sustained.
Gamification utilizes this interplay between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. In learning, the interplay between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation might be best explained by the self-determination theory.
Self Determination Theory
The self-determination theory is a comprehensive approach to motivation and behavior. It proposes the core idea that people have an intrinsic desire to feel that the ‘self’ freely drives their actions.
As a consequence, when people feel more in control over their lives and choices they are more motivated to take action and commit.
The relationship between motivation and behavior (in our case, engagement) is seen in the metaphor of an iceberg. Engagement is what we see above the surface, while motivation is the part hidden underwater.
When motivation is nurtured by intrinsic or extrinsic rewards, it strengthens engagement, leading to changing behavior.
According to the self determination theory the environment can create conditions that give a sense of reward in three needs.
- Autonomy: the feeling that you have control over your own behavior.
- Competence: the feeling that your actions have an impact on the environment.
- Relatedness: the creation of social bonds with others.
If an environment promotes the realization of these three needs, individuals are passionately engaged. Also, extrinsic rewards that strengthen these three needs reinforce intrinsic motivation.
When implemented correctly, gamified training builds upon the self determination theory.
- Gamification promotes a sense of being in control of your learning experience (autonomy)
- It also enhances a sense of competence when one completes tasks, receives points or badges, or reaches new levels.
- Gamification promotes a sense of relatedness through competition with colleagues and sharing one’s learning experience with other users.
An exemplary interpretation of how intrinsic drives can motivate people in gamification is the one created by YU-Kin Chou in his Octalysis Framework.
The Octalysis Framework
Yu-Kai Chou suggests that the game industry was the first to master human-focused design. The simple way they did this was by discovering that games have the primary purpose of fun (pleasing the individual).
Humans experience fun from games because they tap into 8 Core Drives (motivators) that propel us towards performing tasks. These form the Octalysis Framework of gamification, so-called because the eight motivators are organized on the 8 sides of an octagon.
These are the 8 core drives of the Octalysis framework of gamification:
Motivation comes from the idea that you are achieving something greater than yourself. It could also be the belief that you have a special gift to achieve a goal or complete a task at lightning speed.
The internal drive to progress, acquire skills and knowledge, and overcome challenges. The effort of progress and overcoming challenges gives meaning to the resulting rewards.
This is the sense of achievement that comes from the creativity of figuring out things when completing a task and the feedback that follows.
The motivational drive that comes from the feeling that you own something. A sense of ownership spurs an innate need to make the owned thing better or own more of it. In gamification, even the possibility of customizing one’s profile supports a sense of ownership.
This is the relatedness motivator. It incorporates the social elements of a game, including competition, sharing, companionship, envy, inferred meanings, and mentorship.
The drive that comes from desiring something because you can’t have it. It could be the delay in moving to the next level of a game because you can only complete a single level every 24 hours.
The drive to find out what’s next in a game. Think of the anxiety and curiosity when you have to wait an entire day or week for the next episode of a movie. Unfortunately, unpredictability is also the drive behind game addiction.
This core drive motivates by avoiding the loss of something. If you have limited time to complete a task in a game path, you hurry up to avoid losing the assigned points.
Gamification designs are successful if they tap into these motivators. If not, people do not find a worthy reason for engaging in gamified learning.
6. Benefits of Gamification to Corporate Training
There are two important points to bear in mind when thinking about gamification in corporate training. First, the core purpose of gamification is not to turn work or training into a game. Instead, it is to mix game mechanics with learning content or tasks to make employees better enjoy the training they do.
Second, employees who enjoy training are a sure driver of a business overall productivity and success. In-fact gamification has been found to increase employee engagement and overall company productivity by 50% to 60%
The specific benefits of gamification in corporate training are innumerable. Here, we discuss 5 of the most compelling ones:
Promote Trainee Engagement
The complexity and routine in traditional employee training methods can make it tedious and dull. With gamified training, activities happen in a fun but challenging manner. This creates a sense of satisfaction and enhances engagement.
That gamification enhances engagement has been proven even in demanding learning areas. For example, gamification has helped improve achievement and promote students’ cognitive engagement in mathematics.
Create a Community around Training
Ordinary games can create a sense of competition by surpassing previous personal achievements or by competing against other players. In gamification the use of leaderboards elicits competition and brings together a community of players with similar learning goals.
In addition, competition enhances positive engagement through social comparison with those ranked higher.
Gamification designers can capitalize on leaderboards to create community and promote the social aspect of learning. This can be expanded upon using strategies like rewards for those who initiate discussions or make comments.
Learning is Scalable and Efficient
Digital and mobile first gamification platforms makes it very scalable. Training can be accessed by employees anywhere and anytime they feel like it. Another factor is that businesses can easily update the training content or include new employees in the system.
Gamification allows for Detailed Impact Measurement
Like other digital applications, gamification platforms are largely programmed and automated. That means trainee task completion, scores, and challenge resolution are automatically recorded in the solution. This is typically generated immediately with the added possibility of integrating almost live data with an LMS.
Delivering real-time feedback supports trainee engagement and the push to navigate challenging tasks. In addition, feedback offers a comprehensive picture of the gamification process’s impact on the learner’s achievement towards the training goal.
Gamification Supports Learning Experience Customization
Gamification can be considered a universal fit because of the way participants can learn at their own pace and independent of others. However, it is also true that each user has a personal experience with the gamification environment.
The ability for customizing app features enhances ownership of the learning process and increases user time on the gamification app. A study found that personalized gamification increased time spent on training by 63.34%.
7. Gamified vs. Game-based Learning
When speaking with others about workplace training, I’ve often found people using the terms ‘gamified training’ and ‘game-based training’ interchangeably. But guess what? These two concepts, while related, are not quite the same thing. Let me break it down for you so you can better understand the differences and how each approach can be used to improve learning experiences in the workplace.
First up, let’s talk about gamified training. In this approach, we’re taking traditional training content and adding game elements to it to make it more engaging and motivating. Think of things like points, badges, leaderboards, and friendly competition among learners. Gamified training isn’t a full-fledged game, but rather, it’s the process of integrating game mechanics into existing training materials to encourage active participation and reinforce learning.
Now, if you’re looking for a more advanced form of gamified training that isn’t quite game-based, you might want to consider incorporating 2D or 3D simulations. These simulations provide a virtual environment that mimics real-life situations, allowing learners to practice and hone their skills in a safe and controlled setting. While they don’t fully immerse participants in a game as game-based training does, they still add a significant layer of interactivity and engagement to the learning process.
Simulations can be especially useful for teaching complex tasks, problem-solving, or decision-making skills. By integrating these 2D or 3D environments with other gamification elements, like points, badges, and leaderboards, you’re creating a highly engaging learning experience that bridges the gap between traditional gamified training and full-fledged game-based training. This approach combines the best of both worlds, offering a more immersive experience without the need to develop a complete game from scratch.
Now, let’s move on to game-based training. This is where we’re actually using games as the primary method for teaching specific skills or knowledge. In this case, the training content is designed and delivered within the context of a game. The learners play the game, and as they progress, they acquire new skills or knowledge relevant to their job. The game itself might be a simulation, a puzzle, or even an adventure – the sky’s the limit!
Here’s an example to illustrate the difference. Imagine we’re designing a training program for customer service representatives. In a gamified training approach, we might take the standard materials – videos, quizzes, and role-plays – and add points and badges for completing tasks, along with a leaderboard to spark some friendly competition. In contrast, a game-based training solution would involve creating an actual game, like a virtual reality simulation, where participants have to resolve customer issues while navigating different scenarios and environments.
Both gamified training and game-based training have their advantages and are effective in different contexts. Gamified training is great for adding motivation and engagement to existing training materials without needing to create an entirely new game from scratch. On the other hand, game-based training can provide a more immersive and interactive experience, which can be particularly useful when teaching complex skills or simulating real-life situations.
So, the next time you’re exploring training solutions for your workplace, remember that gamified training and game-based training are two distinct approaches with unique benefits. Understanding the differences between them will help you choose the best strategy to optimize learning and engagement in your organization.
8. Keys to Success When Introducing Gamified Training
Effective implementation of gamified training is key to achieving employee engagement and fulfillment. This works towards a higher Return on Investment (ROI).
But how do you ensure the gamified training in your business is successful? Here are some tips to make gamified training successful:
Make the Gamification Platform Easily Accessible
Any gamification training platform should be built in a way that trainees can easily access it. This should be so irrespective of the type of device and whether they are at work, home, or traveling.
Easy access gives trainees the flexibility of fitting the training process into their overall work and life program.
From a broader perspective, gamification designs should also possess the following characteristics to enhance ease of access:
- Perceivable: the information and user interface elements should be easy enough for any trainee to understand and use.
- Operable: elements of the user interface should provide easy ways to navigate content, make all functionalities available from any device and give the user enough time to interact with content.
- Understandable: the training content should be readable, and so should all the instructions for using the game.
Make Gamification Relevant for Employees
When introducing gamification, it is important to listen to your employees. Because gamification is primarily geared at employee engagement and a better work experience, running a survey to identify the needs of the employees is recommended.
Identifying the needs of your employees will help create a gamification option that’s tailored to their needs rather than one that’s generic.
When employees know that their voices are taken into account, their urge to discover and use the gamification training platform is increased.
Design Gamification with Clear Learning Objectives
It’s important that gamification training designs have clear learning objectives. These should be communicated to employees together with the criteria for achieving them. Being well informed about the objectives and strategies ignites the learner’s ‘epic meaning’ motivator and answers the “what’s in it for me” question.
Consider making clear to your employees:
- The objectives and goal of the game.
- The benefits of the game for the employee and the company.
- The rules of the game, especially those that could disqualify the employee.
- The achievement criteria (rewards, badges, congratulatory feedback, etc.).
Gamification Should be Self-paced
In traditional training, every learner has to fit into a single training module. Instead, learners can personalize their learning journey and move at their own pace in gamification.
Personalization is possible thanks to aspects like microlessons and nano learning. In both cases, the content is broken down into short sessions that the learner can easily digest, reflect on, or revisit.
In addition, learning is not tied to a specific period, which gives learners a chance for flexibility and personalization.
Learners should also be able to move at their own pace without the pressure of keeping up with everyone else. They should be allowed to fail, make mistakes, and go back to try until they have a breakthrough.
9. Pitfalls to Avoid when Gamifying Corporate Training
The success of gamification in training is a proven fact. However, that does not make it an obvious guarantee for employee engagement if incorporating game mechanics into training is done without clear strategies and objectives.
In fact, some approaches to gamified training can turn counterproductive and compromise the entire gamification implementation process.
Turning Gamification into a Gimmick
There’s research that shows learners will put extra time into gamified training activities if they consider them more fun than work.
However, if the use of game mechanics is exaggerated and not tied to clear objectives, it can divert user attention to the play element. This means training will focus more on winning, earning points, and being top on the leaderboard, and compromise the learning aspect.
Using Overly Complex Technical Solutions
Challenges are a core part of learning in gamified training. Nonetheless, if the difficulty level of challenges is too high, they will cause frustrations and kill the learner’s motivation and engagement.
Instead, gamification challenges and learning activities should be designed to encourage mastery of the learning content while giving the learner a sense of satisfaction and achievement.
Lock into Generic Course Libraries
Today, there are innumerable gamified training design vendors. Businesses and organizations need to identify those that offer them a learning solution adaptable to their company culture and individual employee learning needs.
If businesses do not go for customized options, employees will spend hours of precious time on platform with generic content and processes. That means neither the company objectives nor the employee learning needs are met.
10. Final Thoughts
The use of game mechanics in non-game corporate learning contexts is common in many businesses and organizations. This is primarily geared towards increasing employee motivation and engagement.
By increasing employee engagement and satisfaction through the fun in gamified corporate training, companies can, in turn, increase their productivity and ROI.
Gamification is only successful if it taps into the core motivators that make us choose to do something. This is why gamification designs that are not well thought out or fail to promote ease of use and personalization can be counterproductive.
The gamification market is as vast as employee variety can be. Choosing the best is choosing happier employees and a more successful business.